Ebook demand booms locally

How popular have e-books and ebook readers and apps become? Consider this: ebook checkouts from the Siouxland Libraries increased 201 percent over the course of 2011. Meanwhile, the number of electronic materials went up 139 percent from 2010 to 2011.

The figures are rather stunning. Last January, the first complete month of use by those who received ereaders for Christmas, 1,690 e-books were checked out. Last month, before a new and likely larger round of ereader gift-giving, there were 5,240 checked out. That accounted for 16 percent of the e-books checked out the entire year. Who knows what this month’s figures will show?

This isn’t a unique situation. Demand at major public libraries has doubled since December 1, 2011. In fact, it is to the point that demand exceeds supply. That may also be the case here. At the time this post was written, there were 4,277 e-books available through the library. (In comparison, the Chicago Public Library has 6,443.) Of those, less than half were currently available to be checked out. I’m guessing the “hold” list for some of the more popular books is lengthy, even though the default lending period is 14 days. (You can get info on ebook check outs here.)

These statistics, though, undoubtedly underestimate the demand that might otherwise exist. The fact is that even though some publishers (Scribner, Putnam and Simon and Schuster, for example) release print and electronic versions of new books, they won’t provide borrowing licenses to libraries or withhold them for newly published titles. HarperCollins, meanwhile, restricts library licenses to 26 loans of a single book title. And in November, Penguin USA announced it was going to withhold the supply of new digital titles to US libraries.

This means libraries are somewhat caught in the middle. There is explosive demand from patrons but limits imposed by publishers. Throw in the budget constraints libraries are facing and it will be a while before this all sorts out. Still, there’s no doubt e-books are in libraries to stay (says a guy who also would have said the good old card catalog would be around forever).

The survival of libraries will depend on their ability to take advantage of ebook technologies to deliver new kinds of value, even as competition arises in the delivery of their traditional services.

Eric Hellman, “Libraries, Ebooks, and Competition”

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